Recruiting better drivers

May 1, 2007
Since the 1950s, plenty has changed in the trucking industry. State-of-the-art trucks and trailers. Electronic devices that control or monitor equipment

Since the 1950s, plenty has changed in the trucking industry. State-of-the-art trucks and trailers. Electronic devices that control or monitor equipment to increase the safety of moving freight on superhighways. And additional federal regulations from various government agencies with acronyms spanning the alphabet — DOT, FMCSA, OSHA, EEOC — just to name a few. Yet one constant remains the same for most truck carriers when it comes to hiring drivers — the application process.

“Truck carriers today are searching for driver applicants who were born from four generations,” said Kelly Anderson, Impact Transportation Solutions. “But the companies haven't changed anything about how to recruit drivers in the 21st century. Recruiters take a phone call from a driver and then mail out an application. At the end of the week they're wondering why they hardly ever get those applications returned. No kidding! Those drivers already are working for another truck carrier.

“Time of response will make or break your recruiting efforts. If your recruiting department is going to take a couple of weeks to request everything at the same time — employment records, motor vehicle record, criminal background check — then they're throwing away your money like there's no tomorrow.

“The longer you stretch the time of the hiring cycle, the lower the quality of driver you're going to hire. You invest all this time in a huge paper shuffle, finally decide this is the driver you want, and then he's already with another company. That's what I call good intentions gone bad.

“A hungry driver who needs to feed his family will keep looking for a job until he finds one. He's not going to wait on some lazy recruiter to shuffle papers at the office. Drivers usually are disqualified as an applicant from information in the motor vehicle record. Why not order it immediately?”

Section 604, paragraph D, of the Fair Credit Reporting Act outlines the legal requirements regarding the use of reports in the trucking industry, Anderson said. “It specifically gives us permission to run records with verbal permission from the driver if we haven't seen the applicant face to face. Only 13 states prohibit running a motor vehicle record without a signed release.

“Our system is perfectly designed to give us exactly what we've been getting. I hear the same complaints over and over again from carriers. Imagine that burned cookies are coming off the assembly line at Nabisco and employees are yelling ‘Send more cookies.’ If the cookies are burned, let's change the system. Instead of trying to scrape off the burned part, let's look upstream and find out why we're getting this type of result.”

To recruit drivers, the first step is to attract them. Know what type of media works best. Advertising has three basic functions: catch the driver's eye, build the brand of the trucking company, and give them a reason to call. “If the ad is all about image, you won't get any response,” Anderson said. “You have to have a hook to initiate a response. There has to be a reason for the driver to pick up the phone and call you.”

Throwing money at all types of ads, however, is a big waste. For example, newspaper ads provide better results for attracting drivers to intermodal carriers than over-the-road companies. “So many times recruiters are not tracking the results of their advertising. Recruiters on a treadmill — going through the motions — are costly.”

Anderson said he likes using agencies in the recruitment process because of their experience with advertising. “Agencies have multiple clients and they know what works for trucking companies. I get the benefit of their experience without having to make the mistakes of figuring out what works. Sometimes newspapers and magazines will offer discounts to agencies because of the ad volume they can provide.”

Before spending money on advertising, companies must know what information will attract drivers. Drivers are motivated to respond to an ad by knowing how much they get paid, when they'll get home, and how many miles the company will guarantee.

“When you publish an ad that says ‘Our company pays up to such and such dollars,’ you won't get any phone calls because drivers don't believe you,” Anderson said. “It's much more effective to calculate the average pay per driver for the previous week and put that number in the ad.”

Spending money on effective advertising is only the start of the recruiting process, Anderson said. If the company doesn't have someone to answer the phone, the ad money is wasted.

“The call has to be answered by a person because 50% of drivers immediately hang up when they reach an automated phone system or voice mail,” he said. “If you're spending good money to get the phone to ring, get that call to a real person, not a machine.”

In small companies, the person answering the phone probably isn't a fulltime recruiter. It also may be the same person who is the safety manager or orientation director and determines driving assignments for the company. Larger companies may need fulltime recruiters, depending on how many drivers are required to keep the fleet running.

“So the question becomes how many recruiters does a company need? If you are looking for one to three company drivers and one or two owner-operators per week, then one recruiter will be able to fill those positions. If you need at least four to eight company drivers per week, then hire a processor rather than an additional recruiter because it costs less, and the processor becomes your recruiter-in-training. When you get to the level of eight to 12 company drivers per week, you should hire an additional recruiter. The math works — I've repeated it many times.”

Recruiters must be empowered by the trucking company with clearly defined hiring criteria. A common complaint from recruiters is they can't get approval on a new hire, because the person with hiring authority is in a meeting. In the meantime, the driver is on the phone with another carrier. If a driver is within the hiring criteria, don't wait to get him on board.

Recruiters also will lose the driver applicant if they ask the driver for a phone application. “ As soon as you say the dreaded words ‘phone application,’ the driver is thinking, ‘No way am I spending 45 minutes on the phone in a question-and-answer interrogation process,’” Anderson said.

A friendly phone conversation with a recruiter encourages drivers to provide information about themselves. Experienced recruiters don't use the same list of questions in the same order every time they are talking to drivers on the phone.

“Using recruiting software to fill in the information about safety training and previous job responsibilities is fine as long as you don't allow the computer to determine the flow of the conversation. You must engage the driver conversationally. Without a relationship, you don't build trust. And without trust, you aren't going to get a driver hired.”

Recruiters concentrate on listening to what drivers are saying about their likes and dislikes from previous jobs and companies. They use that information to attract the driver to their company.

“Visualize your company benefits as a piece of candy. Your job as a recruiter is to find out — in about 30 seconds — what flavor he likes. Then you start the conversation to get information about the driver. At the end of the conversation, you can say ‘Based on what I've seen so far, I don't see any reason why I couldn't hire you. If I have your permission, I can run your MVR.’ So you've just made a contingent offer of employment to a driver during the first phone call.”

Recruiters also should be required to tell applicants a specific orientation date for new drivers, Anderson said. They log the driver's name under that date. Then recruiters will do everything possible to avoid having to remove that driver's name from the list. “If you wait to add the name until every document is filed with the company, it slows down the hiring process.”

Hiring practices

After a company has gotten the attention of potential candidates to fill job positions, recruiters should already have developed a systematic approach to conducting interviews. “A person's most recent past is the best indicator of future behavior,” Anderson said. “It does surprise me that some trucking companies don't bother to do pre-employment interviews. I train my recruiters to conduct an integrity interview face to face with the applicant. Don't let the candidate sit behind a table because it gives them a wall to hide behind. As anxiety increases during an interview, your ability to detect deception increases.”

Integrity tests are designed to help identify job applicants who are likely to engage in employee theft and other undesirable behavior such as on-the-job violence, illicit drug abuse, and pose disciplinary problems. This class of personnel tests also helps predict dependability in the workplace.

The tests can be customized to meet the needs of the employer because specific attributes are assessed with designated groups of questions. This means that one company can test for honesty and nonviolence by administering those sets of questions, while another might test for drug avoidance and turnover. Other traits that can be evaluated include safety consciousness, work values, customer service, responsiveness to supervision, and overall employability.

The tests are not intended to replace a thorough background check, but the results of the tests attempt to predict future behavior by correlating them to a person's past activities. Because of the nature of integrity tests, it is legal to give them to prospective employees before a job is offered, Anderson said. Some companies screen all prospective applicants with integrity tests; others only screen finalists.

Research done on integrity tests given to workers in the transportation, hospitality, healthcare, and retail industries indicates that about 70% of applicants meet minimal passing standards, while 30% score below standard. So when positioned as the initial step of the hiring process, the tests help weed out the bottom third of the applicant pool.

Driver applicants with employment instability can be considered for job openings, but Anderson said companies must provide counseling before making any employment offers if they want to avoid fast turnover in their driver pool. “People always ask me, ‘How many jobs on an application should I accept?’ In a perfect world, I'd like an applicant with one job in 10 years or perhaps three in five years. But today you have to counsel some driver applicants and explain very clearly that if they continue to have instability in their employment record, they're going to become ineligible not just for hiring with your company but also for the trucking industry. If you don't counsel them, you become just another tick mark on an application form.”

Retention techniques

Companies need to invest a similar amount of effort in retaining drivers after they have been hired, Anderson said. “Our industry loses 75% of drivers during the first 90 days of employment. You have to make communication during those first 90 days a top priority so that drivers really believe the company cares about them.

“How many times have you said ‘If the driver would have just given it another week it would have worked out?’ Many times drivers quit before we think they really give us a chance. But we have to ask ourselves, ‘did we really do our best to make them feel like they made the right choice coming to our company?’

Anderson outlines six steps companies should follow to increase driver retention:

  1. Recruiters should meet their drivers in orientation — People make a commitment to people not to companies. Drivers choose your company not only because of the pay and benefits, but because they believed the recruiter as they heard the information. A relationship of trust has developed. However, many recruiters don't think they have time to go into orientation and meet the drivers they hired because they are so busy hiring next week's class. This can be the start of the drivers' impression that they are just numbers. It's also a lost opportunity for the recruiter to ask the driver for his/her help by referring other drivers to the company.

  2. Be organized — As an independent consultant conducting driver recruiting, and retention analysis and training, I attend orientations under cover as a driver. I get to experience a company's orientation program from the eyes of a driver. One of the biggest gripes I hear from drivers comes when they have to wait for the presenter during orientation. All they're thinking is that they aren't making enough money to pay their bills while sitting in that class.

  3. Give the company tour early in orienttion — Most companies schedule the tour of the company as the graduation from orientation. Give the tour of your company no later than after lunch on the first day. During this tour you can introduce as many of the key personnel as are available. This will make the drivers feel they are already part of the company.

  4. Introduce the fleet manager/dispatcher early in orientation — Fleet managers look up from their desks just long enough to give drivers the number of their assigned trucks and say a half hearted ‘glad to have you’ and then they tell the driver to make sure to sign on to the satellite system so they can send them a load. The introduction to the fleet manager should take place during the tour on the first day. This will give the opportunity for the driver and fleet manager to meet in passing over the course of orientation during breaks and lunch. It also allows time for a meeting in which they go over mutual expectations — this sets the tone for the entire working relationship.

  5. Assign trucks on first day of orientation — This is usually done at the very end of orientation. With great expectations the driver goes out to the truck ready to get on the road. The inspection reveals a couple of things the shop needs to fix. And it's too late to talk to their recruiter, orientation instructor, or fleet manager, because everyone has gone home. So this is how they will spend the first night at their new company. Assigning the drivers to their trucks on the first day of orientation helps them to start feeling like they belong to the company.

  6. Consider not withholding company equipment and new employee deductions from the first check — Most drivers have missed at least one paycheck when they arrive for company orientation. Helping the driver catch up financially may keep them long enough to realize they made the right choice coming to your company. Many companies hold back the first paycheck so drivers work for two to three weeks without pay. And then, much to the driver's dismay, it isn't a full check because of orientation for part of the first week. To add additional financial pressure to an already stressed situation, the company has withheld for safety equipment and escrow accounts.

“Successful driver retention is about doing a lot of the right things right,” Anderson said. “Most driver retention solutions don't cost anything, it's just improving the way we do the things we already do.”

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